Laying floor tiles and sheet vinyl

Finding the centre of the room is the first stage of p7 arming a design and for calculating the number of tiles of any one type that may be required. The tile direction, and hence design, is also influenced by positions of the main doorways.

The centre of the room is also used as the starting point for tile laying. This ensures that the tiles are laid evenly and squarely in what is the most conspicuous part of the room and means that you end up by trimming and cutting tiles to fit. Even in small rooms or hallways, always start tiling in the middle.

Before tiling, do a ‘dry run’ to check for problems in laying and also that your design works. Tile fit can be checked across the length and the breadth of a room, in alcoves, and anywhere else where the basic shape of the room alters.

This is a particularly important job if a large, unusually shaped room is being tiled.

Arrange two lengths of string to cross the centre of the room and to act as guides for tile laying. Fixed carefully to the skirting and stretched taut a little above the floor, these can then be chalked and snapped against the floor to produce the final laying marks.

Before you go further, consider if moving the strings a little away from the middle actually reduces the amount of fiddly cutting needed at the edges: in the featured room , there is too much of this so the line was moved. You could, of course, take up this border width by using feature strips incorporated into the overall design, so that the borders are highlighted, but this will still probably involve you in a lot of fiddly cutting. So, shifting the whole lot one way or the other so that at least a third or half a tile is left at the borders makes accurate cutting and shaping much easier.

In the featured room , moving the tiles to the right a little avoids fiddly cutting at the ‘window wall’ border and leaves half-tiles on the ‘inner wall’ border. Only door 3 and the opposite corner present anything of a problem.

You may prefer, however, to shift the whole tile pattern to the left. This time the half-tiles occur at the ‘window wall’ border, and less fiddly cutting is involved both at door 3 and the corner opposite to this.

Too much fiddly cutting means wasted tiles, particularly where a directional pattern has to be matched. Spending time on a dry laying run keeps this wastage to a minimum, reduces the work-load and makes for a better-looking job.

Having finally established the laying guides, chalk these on the support flooring. Remove the strings but leave the skirting pins in place so that chalked marks can be remade if necessary.

Tile preparation

With vinyl tiles, by and large you get what you pay for. The more expensive forms contain a greater proportion of vinyl, are better wearing as a result, and are usually less of a problem to lay. All benefit from being left a day or so in a warm room or airing cupboard, after which time they become more pliable and easier to handle. Sheet vinyl, in particular, ought to undergo this acclimatization procedure. There is no need to do the same for cork tiling.

Laying individual tiles

Individual tiles are laid from the centre of the room and outwards. If tile adhesive is required, spread a little of this along the chalked cross lines. Always use the adhesive recommended by the tile manufacturer, and follow the specified instructions for applying this. With cork tiles, for example, you may have to apply adhesive to the underside of the tile as well as to the floor, perhaps leaving an interval for drying before bringing both together.

The important rule for tiling is to cover only a small part of the floor at a time. Lay the centre four tiles against each other to coincide with the crossed chalked marks at the centre of the room.

Take care not to push the tiles together if adhesive is used: this may force the excess up between the tiles. Wipe off surplus adhesive with a damp cloth before it has a chance to dry. Smears can be removed with soap and a brush—never use solvents.

Work outwards from the centre four tiles once these have set, applying only as much adhesive as is necessary for each small area before you tile. Deal with one quadrant of the floor before moving on to the next.

The physical finish of some tiles is directional and if this is not immediately obvious, check to see if there is a laying direction arrow printed on the underside. If light catches the surface of an improperly-laid directional tile it can considerably affect the overall appearance. To avoid slight shade differences from box to box, shuffle and mix the tiles.

Cutting tiles to fit

Eventually you will come to the border where, unless the fit is arranged to be perfect, the tiles need cutting to shape and width. This is an easy enough job if you are familiar with scribing techniques, but if these are new to you it may be worthwhile sacrificing a few spare tiles to practise on.

Place a tile squarely on top of the last one before the border. Take another and place this partly on top but firmly butted against the wall. The inner edge is then used to mark a cutting line on the middle tile—you can score this using a cutting knife and then complete the cut elsewhere using a cutting board, steel rule and safety blade. Make sure the middle tile is of the correct type and in the right direction before cutting. ¦ ‘ -¦

When you are laving into and around a corner, tiles need to be cut both widthways and lengthways. Use the same procedure as for a straight border but repeat this for the two sides of the corner without turning the middle tile.

Even on what looks to be a straight and even border, mark up tiles for cutting individually so that you take care of any irregularities. For odd shapes—such as mouldings, radiator pipes, and beam uprights—carefully nibble away the tile freehand until you can slide it into place. A template cut from card saves wasting too many tiles.

You can also use a shape-tracing tool or template former with metal teeth similar to a comb. These teeth take the form of any firm object against which they are pushed and once tightened in place, the outer ends can be used as a cutting guide. The tool is particularly useful for dealing with the often intricate shapes of door architraves and other fixed obstacles.

Sealing the tiles

Vinyl tiles do not require any surface treatment after laying. Some cork tiles are pre-finished with a vinyl coating and also need no further work. Untreated tiles can be treated with oleo-resinous and polyurethane varnishes which are available in eggshell, matt or gloss finishes.

Of these, polyurethane has the advantage of being extremely hard wearing as well as being resistant to both heat and most chemicals. At least two coats are required for cork tiles as a single coat will tend to soak into the cork, leaving a patchy appearance.

It is not a good idea to wax cork tiles as they then.require frequent re-waxing—at least twice each year.

If cork-tiling a bathroom, it is advisable to lay pre-sanded tiles in preference to coated ones. The sealer, when applied, will then cover the cracks at the joins as well.

Avoid walking on unsealed tiles as these damage easily and marks can be very difficult to remove and disguise. If a high-gloss varnish is used, make sure dust is not allowed to spoil the appearance by thoroughly sweeping the floor beforehand.

Fitting sheet vinyl

Sheet vinyl is the modern answer to the once popular linoleum flooring and is warmer, if not quite so hard wearing. It provides a simple solution to those who require a good-looking floor covering—possibly highly patterned—but cannot be bothered with the planning that laying individual tiles involves.

Sheet vinyl comes in rolls from 2m wide, so have a clear idea of the way it is to unroll and be laid before choosing a particular pattern. As with individual vinyl tiles, allow the roll to acclimatize before laying—about two days loose rolled is enough.

Vinyl sheet flooring can sometimes shrink, so the makers usually advise cutting oversize when the material is first laid: follow these cutting instructions closely. After about two or three weeks of use, final trimming can take place at join overlaps and edges.

The possibility of shrinkage must always be considered when planning and laying down cuts and joins. Where possible you should keep these well clear of doorways, so if you are laying sheet in two adjacent rooms, arrange to have the sheet straddling the doorway threshold,

You will need a scribing tool for marking cutting lines at the sheet edges and ends. Make this by driving a nail partly through a wooden batten, 50mm from the end, so that the point protrudes about 3mm.

Allowing a little extra for shrinkage and trimming, cut a length of sheet from your supply roll. Lay the sheet to allow an overlap of up to 150mm at sides and ends. Follow the scribing techniques outlined for final trimming. Use the same procedure for trimming sheet edges as you lay. To do this, make a pencil mark on the edge of the vinyl sheet 250mm from the wall and draw the sheet back from the wall so that it lays flat.

Now measure back 250mm towards the wall and make another mark. By carefully sliding the sheet, arrange it so that the point of your scribing tool coincides with the second mark when the batten end is held against the skirting board. Take care not to twist the sheet out of alignment in the process. Finally, scribe along the sheet as described above, cut off the waste and push the sheet tight against the skirting.

This method of scribing should also be used where a narrow strip is being fitted, such as in a hall or small kitchen.

Where two sheets meet at the middle, the overlap can be trimmed quickly and easily by running a handyman’s knife along the double thickness. If possible coincide the cut with a pattern line in order to conceal it. Raise both edges and lay double-sided tape beneath if this is thought necessary.

The pattern direction should be laid square to the room or doorway, however, if this wall is in any way angled.

Lay the end of your scribing tool at right-angles against the skirting and mark the sheet along the length of the wall. Take your time over the job, and try not ‘o scrape the skirting board paintwork in the process.

The mark left on the sheet should mirror the shape of the wall and skirting. Individual obstructions are best dealt with as they are encountered. Slit the sheeting but do not nibble away any more of the sheet than is necessary for fitting—trimming is best left to much later.

Cut the sheet edge to shape using a handyman’s knife, steel rule and cut- ting board, then push it against the wall. The surplus at the ends can be turned up against the adjoining walls.

The sequence is repeated for the other sheet and rough cuts made again where fittings and protrusions occur, such as at a corner, chimney breast or radiator.

The alignment of the second sheet should of course match that of the first. Also check that trimming to fit the wall still leaves an overlap of at least 30mm with the first. This may mean a little bit of calculating before the second sheet is laid down and coarsely trimmed.

Trimming sheet vinyl

After the two-week ageing period, final trimming can take place. Use a metal straightedge to force the sheet firmly against skirting boards and fittings before making the trimming cuts.

To trim the surplus at the roll ends, you can again use the straightedge to force the sheet fiat as you cut. But as you can only do sections at a time, the appearance may suffer as a result.

A better method—especially if the wall is angled or uneven—is to duplicate the scribing technique used for the edges.

After the final trimming, vinyl sheet that needs to be glued in place can be raised and the adhesive applied. Use the products and techniques suggested by the manufacturers if you have to do this.

With modern, ‘lay flat’ vinyl sheet, gluing is not normally necessary. Specially designed double-sided tape can be used in areas where a raised edge may cause problems, such as at doorways and joins.

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